Pack Your Lunch: Three Tips to Save Money and Time

It’s the end of a busy day and all you want to do is sit down and think about…nothing. The last thing on your mind is what you’re going to eat tomorrow. You haven’t eaten dinner yet and the only food prep happening is on the cooking show you’re watching.

We’ve definitely all been there. In an age of instant food, home cooking is not always at the top of the list. But making your own food can save you a lot of money–and time if you plan it right.

We’d like to share some tips to help get you in the swing of making your own meals. The next time those tacos at the local spot starts calling your name, you’ll have some great tools in your belt to resist temptation.

1. No Food Left Behind

Look in your pantry and fridge and start thinking through some meals you might be able to make with what you have. Some of the simplest meals can be the tastiest.

It’s a good idea to keep some staples on hand like rice, beans, canned veggies, oats, spices and canola oil. You may not always have time to make it to the grocery store so having a well-stocked pantry can make things a lot easier.

Based on the ingredients you already have at home, you can do a web search for recipes to make. lets you select food you have from a checklist and pulls up recipes you can make with those ingredients. It will even let you know the ingredients you’re missing to make the meal. If you do end up shopping for those last few items, compare unit prices to be sure you get the best price. Also take advantage of the store’s savings app or coupons.

Another great resource to check out is the Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day cookbook by Leanne Brown. There’s an English version and a Spanish version. The cookbook includes another great pantry staples list along with dozens of easy recipes you and your wallet will love.

Don’t forget about your leftovers too. That leftover chicken could be great on a sandwich or in a salad.

If cooking is like climbing a mountain to you, join us for an upcoming Cooking Matters course. During the class you’ll learn some time and money-saving tips to help you make food that’s healthy and delicious.

2. Go Back to the Future

Ahh the days of lunches packed by your parents. While a crustless sandwich and cheese crackers may not be the best idea, put a twist on childhood favorites for more nutrition.

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich: Trade out white bread for a whole-grain and look for low-sugar peanut butter and jelly. You can also try adding some fruit!
  • Lunchable-like meals: Grab a container with multiple compartments and fill it with whole-grain crackers, deli turkey, cheese, fresh fruit and veggies. You can even slip in a few dark chocolate covered nuts for a sweet treat. Don’t believe us? Check out our blog on Nine Foods to Love Your Heart.
  • Boxed macaroni and cheese: Whole wheat pasta, reduced-fat cheese and veggies make this Creamy Macaroni and Cheese a winner.
  • Sloppy Joes: Try these Garden Sloppy Joes from our GoHealthy program for a nutritious twist.

In addition, keep healthy snacks handy for pick-me-ups throughout the day. Some veggies and hummus, nuts and raisins or apple slices and peanut butter are a few ideas.

3. Prepare for Lift Off

Once your stomach–I mean you–have decided what to eat and you have all the ingredients, it’s time to go to the kitchen. Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded meal prep.

Set aside some time once a week to prepare your meals for the coming days. The time you spend will be well worth it–especially if you’re trying to save money. has a great list of tips to help you save time in the kitchen. For example, if you’re already planning to chop up some bell pepper for fajitas, chop up extra and freeze it for later. The next time you go to make that meal, you’ll be able to skip the chopping step.

You can also specifically search for recipes that are quick and easy. If you find a great recipe that only takes 15 minutes and makes three servings, you can double the recipe to make more than enough for the work week in 30 minutes or less. These quick and easy veggie wraps from our Cooking Matters program would be great for lunch.

Do you have any other tips that have made it easier for you to pack your own lunch or prepare other meals? Share your ideas with us on Twitter @TAFoodBank.


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